Monthly Archives: July 2010

Review: Bakon Bacon-Flavored Vodka

There are two schools of thought on Bakon — an honest-to-God bacon-flavored vodka — and never the twain shall meet.

One school says this is awesome, at a way to get that highly-prized bacon flavor into an alcoholic spirit.

The other school says it is disgusting.

I won’t be able to sway you either way, but I can give you some impressions at least.

First, do not try to drink Bakon straight. Distilled from potatoes in the U.S. and naturally flavored, the bacon essence here is much too powerful to be consumed this way. Intensely smoky and charcoal-like, it’s bitter and rough, ensuring that you have no hope of completing a single shot without substantial financial compensation.

Bakon realizes this, surely, and offers two standby recipes for the spirit. I tried them both. The first is a chocolate bacon martini, which I couldn’t get down despite loads of whipped cream and chocolate liqueur. The other is considerably better: Using Bakon in a Bloody Mary. Here, the bacon flavor doesn’t become so overpowering, and it manages to complement the tomato juice and spices fairly well. It’s more subtle, but comes across pretty clearly in the aftertaste — if you really love bacon, I have to say this is a winner.

That said, hanging on to Bakon just for the occasional Bloody Mary may not be worth the expense and shelf space. But, like I said, it’s a decision that I’ll never be able to make for you.

B / $30 /

Affordable Dessert Wine Roundup

With party season getting underway, it’s time to look at dessert wines, no? (OK, so party season is nowhere near arriving, but these wines have been sitting here all year and I finally had the time to properly review them.)

This hodgepodge of wines basically have nothing in common except higher alcohol (usually), sweetness (some more than others), and the instruction to drink them after dinner. And they’re all under 30 bucks.

Thoughts follow.

2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise Le Chant des Griolles – Quite a mouthful for a Muscat, this relatively simple dessert wine from France offers a mere 15% alcohol and moderate sweetness. The body is citrus, with some backbone, a peachy/orange character intense with floral aromatics. The finish is a bit off, too meaty, but overall it’s solid for a muscat. B+ / $29 (375ml)

2008 Carlo Pellegrino Passito di Pantelleria – A Sicilian wine from the Zibbibo grape, this is more intense than standard Muscat, but still easy drinking. Lots of aromatics, with a bit of a harsh finish. Still, a bargain for Passito. 15% alcohol. B / $25 (750ml)

2008 Chateau de Jau Muscat de Rivesaltes (pictured) – Another French Muscat, it’s the lightest of the bunch, with a distinct lemon character (perhaps that’s why there’s a photo of a lemon on the bottle). Perhaps not decadent enough to stand up to a big dessert, it’s likely a better pairing with cheese or even before dinner. 15% alcohol. B+ / $19 (500ml)

2007 Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage – A big French red, but one that tastes stronger than its actual 16% alcohol. It has a raspberry and strawberry punch to it, which plays well with the relatively moderate sweetness. A little simple for a Banyuls, perhaps, but fairly easygoing and harmless. B+ / $19 (500ml)

2002 Churchill’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto – A bit of an anomaly in this roundup, but hey, we’re not perfect here at Drinkhacker. 20% alcohol and a fine way to wrap up the roundup. A simple LBV Port, it’s lush with plum character and black cherries, but the body is on the light side for Port. A very nice value and something I wouldn’t hesitate to order by the glass with a chocolaty dessert. B+ / $28 (750ml)

Review: Ursus Vodka

Everyone needs a gimmick, but the vodka industry, where product is legion, needs it more than anyone.

Ursus Vodka, which hails from the Netherlands and is distilled “from grain,” is a budget brand with a trick: Like Coors Light’s newer bottles, the bears on the label turn from white to blue when it’s chilled. (It does take a bit of chilling: The label turns blue in the freezer, but not in the refrigerator.)

In addition to a standard vodka, there are three flavored versions, two of which I sampled for review.

Ursus Vodka (unflavored) is a standard 80 proof, basically unremarkable in any way. Strongly medicinal on the nose and moderately harsh on the palate, it’s lightly sweet but with a lot of bite and a rough finish. Probably suited only for mixing bulk drinks. C-

Ursus Blue Raspberry Vodka is the color of that stuff they disinfect combs in at the cleaners, which is probably how it will be used: To add blueness to a cocktail when no blue curacao is available. Sweet but not horribly so, it’s a cross between real raspberry and cough syrup that may be satisfying to ultra sweet tooths. The finish coats the mouth in a slightly disturbing way. 60 proof. C-

Ursus Green Apple Vodka is the Scope to Blue Raspberry’s comb disinfecting liquid, color-wise anyway. Scope flavor would be an improvement, actually. The nose has no apple character at all; it’s more akin to some kind of industrial cleaning fluid. A touch of Apple-flavored Kool-Aid in the body does very little for this spirit, which is almost unbearable to actually drink, harsh and offensive. I hate to be quite  blunt, but it’s one of the worst products I’ve sampled in the history of this blog. 60 proof. F

each $11 / no website

World’s Strongest Beer Concocted

At 120 proof, or 60% alcohol, is it really a beer? $45 will get you a third of a liter and, probably, a trip to the ER.

A Dutch brewer with a penchant for competition has laid claim to creating the world’s strongest brew: a beer that is some 60 percent alcohol by volume.

“You don’t drink it like beer, but like a cocktail — in a nice whisky or cognac glass,” brewer Jan Nijboer told Dutch news agency ANP.

Nijboer’s Almere-based brewery, ‘t Koelschip (The Refrigerated Ship), sells the new beer, which is 120 proof and dubbed “Start the Future,” in a one-third liter bottle for 35 euros ($45) each.

Nijboer told ANP he developed the new brew to keep up with Scottish outfits that were also pushing the boundaries of beer’s alcohol content.

Review: Tequila Avion

This new brand hails from New York, where a former Seagram exec decided to strike out on his own in the brave new world of tequila. As the story goes, founder Ken Austin scoured Jalisco for the best spirit that hadn’t made it to the U.S., and found it on the highest agave plantation in the area, where the agave was being slow-roasted at low temperatures in order to keep a mellow, sweet character in the resulting spirit.

The result is Avion, bottled from this mysterious source (and even ready in reposado and anejo versions) and ready for sale in the U.S.

I tasted all three varieties during an Avion visit to San Francisco recently and have sampled the Silver on its own later — only reconfirming my thoughts about this solid, top-shelf product.

All are 100% agave and 80 proof.

Tequila Avion Silver – Sweeter than the blanco you’re probably used to, with a buttery body and fruity notes of pineapple and lemon. Herbs and some agave kick in for the finish, which is smooth and without almost any bite at all. Gorgeous. A / $45

Tequila Avion Reposado – Aged 6 months, quite long for a reposado, which gives it impressive caramel and vanilla notes, which play well with the agave in the body. It’s surprisingly light in color for a spirit with a flavor this rich, while also disarming in its complexity. A / $50

Tequila Avion Anejo – A masterpiece. Aged two years, giving it huge vanilla and cinnamon character, with notes of nougat, chocolate, and fresh cookies. Maple syrup lines the finish, but all the way it is nothing but smoothness. A beautiful, old tequila that can stand up to the big boys’ anejos — and extra anejos. Also an absurd bargain considering the quality. A+ / $55

Tasting Report: Del Dotto Winery and Caves

Do you want to taste some seriously “lights out*” wines? Look no further than Del Dotto, a postmodern institution along Napa’s main wine trail, and the proprietor of a tour I’ve been hearing about for years as a “must experience” event.

This weekend I finally summoned up the courage and paid the whopping $50 to take the hour-long tour into Del Dotto’s wine caves — really more like a walk down a long hallway, I guess — and the experience will not soon be forgotten.

No, not because of the wines, which are invariably over-oaked and incredibly intense and heavy with alcohol, the blatant house style here — although some are quite good.

No, it’s the winery that you won’t soon forget. Overdone with frescoes, columns, balustrades, cornices, and other forms of overdone architecture not often seen in modern America, Del Dotto is a gaudy throwback to a time that has never actually existed. And lest Del Dotto’s faux-talian inspiration not prove readily apparent upon entry, the soaring — pumpingly loud, really — vocals of Andrea Bocelli, piped into the tasting room and the caves via a dozen amplifiers, are ominpresent and impossible to ignore.

The winery’s guides are earnest and try their best to be heard over the tenor’s crooning, and they really do seem to believe the patter they are selling — that using heavily toasted oak and spending nearly two years in a barrel is the right way to treat a wine, no matter what varietal it is, and sure enough, the winery has its fans. It only sells direct, never appearing at retail.

Along the tour, all wines are tasted straight from the barrel, and the guides are generous. Thoughts on everything we sampled follow.

Del Dotto Winery Tasting Report

2006 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B+ / soft, with chocolate/blueberry notes, lush body

2008 Del Dotto Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Vineyard / $75 / B- / jammy, overdone

2008 Del Dotto Sangiovese Napa Valley / $49 / A- / velvety, with herbal notes, unlike Italian sangiovese in any way

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot X / $65 / B / incredibly rich and smoky

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Lot R / $65 / B+ / more floral on the nose, but lots of wood; tart finish

2007 Del Dotto Cave Blend / $49 / B- / minty

2008 Del Dotto Estate Merlot Rutherford / $58 / A- / a return to form for merlot, lots of cocoa and blueberry notes

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain DV10 Block 2 / $125 / B+ / woody with a hard finish

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Mountain D254 Block 1 / $125 / A / much better balance

2008 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard 887 St. Helena / $125 / A- / heavy jam notes, but solid

NV Del Dotto Zinfandel/Syrah Port / $75 / A- / whiskey notes, intense

* A phrase of uncertain origin but meaning “great” which we picked up during our tour here.

Review: El Jimador “New Mix” Tequila Cocktails

“New Mix” is not a slogan stuck on the can of El Jimador’s ready-to-drink tequila cocktails. It’s the actual name of the product: New Mix.

Hugely popular in Mexico, New Mix now comes in five flavors. We’ve had the first three flavors sitting in the fridge literally for months, and finally we are getting around to cracking them open to see what all the fuss is about. (We’re still not sure.)

Each is 5 percent alcohol and is made with actual tequila. The drinks are lightly carbonated.

Thoughts in each follow.

El Jimador New Mix Margarita looks like a lemon-lime soda, and frankly tastes like it too. The fizzy concoction is solid soft drink up front, then you get that tequila bite in the finish. There’s not much of it, but it’s noticeable. That said, this tastes almost nothing like a margarita (with none of the flavor of triple sec that it claims to have), but a lot more like a Seven-and-Tequila, but I guess that wouldn’t look as good on the label. C

El Jimador New Mix Paloma – A paloma is traditionally a grapefruit juice and tequila cocktail, and this rendition does at least smell like grapefruit when you crack open the can. The flavor is a little funkier than that, though — less grapefruit and more of a canned fruit salad. Less tequila bite than the margarita New Mix, which in this case is not a great thing. C-

El Jimador New Mix Spicy Mango Margarita – It’s not an orange crush in that can, it’s a spicy mango margarita! El Jimador radically overreaches here, pulling off something that is more reminiscent of Red Bull than anything that bears resemblance to spice, mango, or margarita. No idea where this one came from or why it exists. D

Review: Bohemia Clasica Beer

Yes, Virginia, there is more beer in Mexico than Corona.

Don’t be fooled by the dark, squat bottle. Bohemia is a fairly simple pilsner, a light gold beer that offers a nice, easy-drinking balance of sweet and bitter. There’s a distinct note of gingerbread on the nose, which is quite pleasing, and the body comes across as very fresh and full of life. The finish brings some bitterness, though the finale can run to the watery instead of the crisp.

Altogether this is a solid effort. Not quite Pacifico, but a good, food-friendly beer that is almost ubiquitous in its availability.

B+ / $14 per 12-pack /

Review: Balcones Distilling Baby Blue and Rumble

The uninitiated may think of Texas as the frontier, a place where whiskey is probably as common as water. Not so: In fact, for years, Tito’s has been the state’s only legal distillery.

Now a few upstarts are coming out of the skunkworks, and the state has its first whiskey since Prohibition. Operating out of Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling doesn’t just make the first whiskey in the state, it also makes, as far as anyone can tell, the only whiskey made from blue corn — in this case, Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. The distillery’s first two products — Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky, and an odd offshoot, Balcones Rumble — are reviewed below.

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Wow, intense. Clearly a young corn-based whisky without a lot of time in the barrel. The starchy character (“white dog,” in the parlance) is overpowering on the nose alone, with a huge, grainy body and a finish redolent of petrol. Some sweetness makes this drinkable, but like so many younger whiskies, it isn’t easy going. Why this wasn’t left in the barrel for another three or four years is a mystery to me. Batch BB10-10. 92 proof. C / $45

Balcones Rumble - Perhaps aware that Baby Blue was not made for easy consumption, Balcones created Rumble, not exactly a liqueur (it’s a serious 94 proof) but close enough. Made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar, and Mission figs, Rumble looks like whiskey but tastes like something else. That Balcones corniness is apparent on the nose, but it’s a much sweeter spirit on the whole. Only the fig character really comes through, the rest is mainly a sweeter version of Baby Blue. Batch R10-10. C+ / $36

Update 2/2013: Tasted new releases of both of these products, with considerably different notes, especially for Rumble, which (at least now) is far more worthwhile than this review would indicate. Hopefully, new reviews coming soon.

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Review: 2007 Chateau d’Aiguilhe Comtes von Neipperg

This is Bordeaux? This blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc has an intense, New World character that does not feel like Bordeaux at all. Ripe with black currants and thick plum character, the Merlot shines through, and the tannins, in just a few years, have mellowed into a silky and smooth texture. Chocolate and a touch of leather and tobacco rush the finish. Shocking balance and richness in a wine of this price, and none of that overwhelming earth that so many Bordeaux wines succumb to. That this wine costs a mere $20 is almost criminal. Snap it up.

A / $20 /

Review: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Spirits

Hailing from Sheffield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Mountain Distillers is a new (est. 2007) boutique distillery that makes a ragtag assembly of vodka, gin, and rum. Primarily available in the Northeast, we tasted through the company’s current lineup, with one exception (we’ll get to that later).

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka is distilled from unknown materials, and is blended with water sourced directly from the Berkshire Mountain property, and finally charcoal filtered. The result is a surprisingly plain vodka. Though the body is buttery and rich, there’s only a minimal amount of flavor here. The primary taste is merely watery. It isn’t until the finish that some of vodka’s more traditional, medicinal notes start to come on, and linger they do for quite a while. This is an acceptable vodka but a hard sell at this price. 80 proof. B- / $30

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Greylock Gin is more unique, flavoring its spirit with juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, orange peel, licorice, and cinnamon. Intensely aromatic, the juniper is a bomb on the palate of this London Dry style gin, with citrus the secondary note. Licorice is curious — and quite a delight — in the finish. This is a gin that feels quite versatile, though it does pack a wallop in the flavor department. 80 proof. A- / $30

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ethereal Gin Limited Edition Batch No. 1 is exactly what it claims to be, a limited edition gin with unique flavoring agents. In this case, it has all the ingredients of Greylock, plus lemon, cubeb (grain of paradise), black pepper, elderberry, spearmint, rose hips, and nutmeg. As you might expect, it’s even more powerful than Greylock, and the mint and lemon shine through clearly. The finish turns a tad bittersweet, though. Perhaps this gin is just too busy? There’s already a Batch No. 2 (pink label) on the market as well, with a different recipe. 86 proof. B+ / $40

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ragged Mountain Rum is the only brown spirit in this lineup, a pot-distilled and barrel-aged (for undetermined time) rum from Blackstrap molasses. The nose is distinctly earthy, not sweet, and the body backs that up — not wood, but the earth proper. Crafted as a sipping rum, I didn’t get the joy of drinking rum out of Ragged Mountain that I do with sweeter, aged styles, instead finding myself thinking this rum would work better in a simple mixed drink. B- / $30

Tasting Helfrich Alsatian Wines with Anne-Laure Helfrich

Anne-Laure Helfrich isn’t your typical European winemaker. At 23 years old, she’s probably the youngest person I’ve ever encountered in this business, yet she’s known the wine trade all her life. A third generation beverage-maker (grandpa started with Kirsch and dad moved the family into wine), Helfrich spends much of her time on the road, spreading the news about her family’s brand of wines from France’s Alsace region. I had the good fortune to taste six of Helfrich’s wines over dinner at San Francisco’s Bar Tartine.

Thoughts on the full lineup — three table wines, three grand crus — follow.

2009 Helfrich Riesling Alsace / $15 / B / made in a very dry style, malty and easy

2009 Helfrich Pinot Gris Alsace / $15 / B+ / retains a salmon color from contact with grape skins, left with a strawberry character and slight residual sugar, moderate body, very drinkable

2009 Helfrich Gewurztraminer Alsace / $15 / B / typical Gewurz style, with a rough palate; finish offers melon with floral touches, somewhat restrained

2007 Helfrich Steinklotz Riesling Grand Cru Alsace / $25 / B+ / tart

2008 Helfrich Steinklotz Pinot Gris Grand Cru Alsace / $25 / A- / more balanced than the standard bottling, good sweetness level, peach notes

2008 Helfrich Steinklotz Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Alsace / $25 / B+ / fuller body, but similar to the standard bottling

Review: Harlem Kruiden Liqueur

A new liqueur called Harlem is making a splash in the cocktail scene, its goal nothing less than knocking Jagermeister off its precious perch at the top of the “grimace and swallow” shot category.

That’s an awfully tall order: Jager has 70 years of history and sick college students behind it, all unabashedly downing ice cold shots and Jagerbombs as if their lives depended on it.

Similarities — squared off bottle, dark color, herbal aroma, bittersweet flavor, and syrupy consistency — aside, Harlem is a quite different experience than Jagermeister.

It’s darker in color — a deep brown vs. Jager’s red-hued ochre, and it’s stronger in alcohol, 80 proof to Jager’s 70. The body is different too, more sweet and less bitter, with a flavor that tastes of root beer and orange peel. Though Harlem looks ominous, the finish is smooth, with light bitterness that is more pleasant than the grimace-inducing finish that Jager invariably leaves on your face.

Meant to be consumed straight from the freezer, I’ve tried it both cold and at room temperature, and it’s actually acceptable both ways, though superior when it comes out of the icebox.

Harlem hails from the Netherlands, by the way, hence the name — it’s not (in theory, anyway) a reference to the Manhattan neighborhood.

For an even more root beer-toned liqueur, check out Root.

A- / $23 /

Review: Smirnoff Peach and Mango Vodka

Smirnoff keeps cranking out the flavored vodkas, its two latest being the exotic mango and the humble peach. Both are 70 proof bottlings and are naturally flavored.

Smirnoff Peach Vodka – Peach is a common fruit, but it’s not often used in spirits (perhaps due to its legacy with SoCo?). As a vodka flavoring, it works fairly well, exuding strong, fresh peach aromas, lots of sweetness, and no bite at all. I can’t see this being used in anything other than ultra-fruity cocktails, but if you’ve got the right recipe, it’s probably on target. B+

Smirnoff Mango Vodka – Mango spirits are relatively common nowadays, and Smirnoff’s rendition is not the best of the bunch. Yes, mango comes through on the palate, but it’s got a medicinal edge and a harsh finish that belies its proof level. Passable, but little more. B-

$17 each /

Review: 2008 Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni Toscana

This is something you don’t often see in Italian wine: A rich and supple wine that’s fruit forward, full not with over-ripe fruit but with a deep and nuanced melange of fresh berries and dried citrus — or perhaps fresh citrus and dried berries, I’m not entirely sure.

Marchesi de’Frescobaldi’s Tenuta di Castiglioni, from Chianti in central Tuscany, is a rare wine that works as well with food as it does on its own, rich with plums and berries, and laced with black pepper and a touch of cinnamon. The blend is unusual: Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (30%), Sangiovese (10%), and Cabernet Franc (10%). The result: Outstanding for a wine that retails at a mere 25 bucks.

A / $25 /

Review: Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Knappogue Castle has long shunned traditional age statements, instead vintage dating its whiskey with a year instead of telling you how long it’s been sitting around.

That is changing, as Knappogue is finally moving from vintages to age, in order, as the company says, to better communicate to the customer how old these whiskeys are. After all, “1998” could mean a whiskey that is 2 or 12 years old, depending on when it went into the bottle.

Knappogue 12 Year Old Single Malt is the first product under the new rules, and it’s a winner. The nose is strong and heady, belying the light yellow color that all Knappogue tends to have. The body is rich with malted grain, almost woody, with nutty caramel notes, before fading into a lightly flowery character with a touch of citrus on it. Some smokiness seeps in on the finale, which is otherwise clean and refreshing.

80 proof.

A- / $42 /

Review: Vision Vodka

This boutique vodka comes from a curious pedigree: It’s the brainchild of awards designers, the team that created the Golden Globe statuette and the MTV Video Music Award.

What do they know about vodka? Nothing, really, but it turns out the spirit they’ve come up with — produced in small batches at the rate of 12,000 bottles per day, max — isn’t bad at all.

Distilled from grain in the United States, it’s a surprisingly smooth vodka for a grain-based spirit, with a distinct caramel-like sweetness. Some of that traditional, medicinal vodka character can be found on the nose, but it’s mostly absent in the body. The finish offers some herbs, perhaps lemon peel, too.

Then there’s the bottle, which is not quite a Golden Globe but is certainly handsome. In my opinion, though, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

80 proof.

A- / $25 /

Review: Camus Cognac Lineup

You have certainly never heard of Camus cognac. But what if I were to tell you it was a major worldwide brand, the fifth largest cognac house on the globe — with its major markets Asia and Eastern Europe.

Now Camus is coming to America at last, with retail in 15 states and more to come. Fifth-generation distiller Cyril Camus came to town this week to show off his wares, of which he is justly proud. I sampled them over lunch and again on my own at a later date.

The house style is evident in these spirits — light, fruity, and with minimal oak influence. In fact, Camus never uses new oak barrels to age its brandies, only well-aged ones that have lost a lot of their tannin. The result is more easy-drinking, less harsh cognac than you might be used to, even in the youngest bottlings.

If you’re a brandy lover, seek out a bottle of Camus as soon as you catch it on the shelf.

All spirits are 80 proof.

Camus VS is a very light cognac — Cyril says it is traditional to serve it on the rocks, and I’ve tried it both chilled and straight. Very simple, it expresses notes of butterscotch and fresh citrus fruit, with a light body. Smooth, with virtually no bite. An amazing bargain. A- / $25

Camus VSOP spends longer in cask, but sticks to the house style almost exactly. This is Camus’s best-selling cognac, equally light in flavor but a touch darker in color. Very similar to the VS, it’s difficult to tell apart, but a touch of wood in the finish gives it a somewhat different character. I think I prefer the VS’s fruitiness at the low end. B+ / $45

Camus XO Elegance moves up the ladder but continues to hang on to the Camus style, with fruit and sweetness up front. A touch more wood here adds balance vs. the VSOP, with the overall refinement of the spirit reaching a solid and sophisticated level. More dried fruit character in the body, but it’s still light enough (and affordable enough) to merit everday sampling. A- / $120

Camus XO Borderies is the world’s only nonvintage single estate cognac, using grapes exclusively from Camus’s vineyards located in the Borderies growing region in Cognac. The body here is wholly different from the other three cognacs in the portfolio, with a far more intense sweetness, a silky texture, and another step darker in color. Here the fruit takes on an orange peel character, and the finish exudes flowers. The quality here is remarkable for the price. A special cognac indeed. A / $140

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2010 Edition

Four Roses is back with another Small Batch release, of which a mere 3,600 bottles will be made, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the distillery’s Lawrenceburg structure.

Crafted from three of Four Roses’ recipes, it includes whiskeys aged 15 years, 11 years, and 10 years, married together and bottled at barrel strength — 110.1 proof, based on my pre-release sample.

With big caramel notes, this is a whiskey that adheres closely to the Four Roses house style, with clear rye notes mingling with a considerably sweet whiskey that downplays smokiness. Fruit character is muted in this one — a little citrus, but that’s it. It’s ultimately a very pure expression of grain and wood. Very easy drinking, I think it is even better with a splash of water, which brings out more of the earthy characters hidden in the blend.

A- / $75 /

Review: Feudo Arancio Dalila and Cantadoro Wines

Feudo Arancio makes a variety of traditional and international wines in its Sicily-based winery. We tried two of the more noteworthy bottlings, both blends.

2008 Feudo Arancio Dalila is a blend of 80% Grillo — a native Sicilian grape often used in Marsala wine — and 20% Viognier. The body is reminiscent of Pinot Grigio, though the Viognier addition is obvious on the nose. Understated and lightly floral, with round apple and peach notes, it’s an uncomplicated and simple wine that will offend no one at the table. B / about $20

2007 Feudo Arancio Cantadoro is a red blend: 80% Nero d’Avola and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, another mix of local grapes and an international varietal. Intense and smoky, this wine packs a punch right off the bat. Plum — to the point of prune — is the foremost fruit character, and the smoke laced throughout the wine adds depth. That said, it’s on the harsh side, and it needs food to really feel at home. B- / about $20